Landscape stories: The swimming hole

The countryside around my house is like many rural areas in Spain, gradually emptying there is, however, evidence of a former dying lifestyle. People lived on small farms, anything from a single acre. This was subsistence farming where families produced everything in the house or at least the village and money rarely changed hands.

Today’s story was told to me by my neighbour, passed down from her husband’s great grandfather lets call him José for the Story.

The Swimming Hole.

José stood and looked at his bottom field, wondering what on earth he should do. He needed more usable land, and this field was a good size and fairly flat, a real bonus in this hilly country. The problem was it flooded in the winter and was bone dry in the summer. No use for crops. A wet spring and the seeds rotted, and a week of scorching sun killed anything that survived. The cows wouldn’t eat the coarse grass and the damp clay soil caused foot rot in his sheep.
What he needed was an irrigation system that drained the field in the winter and irrigated it in the summer. The water was in the wrong place. A stream ran through the neighbouring woodland and ran along the bottom of the field, forming a lake in winter and spring.
He walked into his field and came up with an idea. If he could dam the stream before the water reached his field and built a small reservoir. He would need to dig out the bottom stream as a drainage ditch and put an irrigation ditch higher up, and he could regulate the flow through the field.
Having made a plan, he needed to find someone to help with the work. His only son was too young to help.
It was customary for everyone to help each other with extensive projects like this one, so he raised it at the next village meeting. Some people sceptical. The plan would benefit him, but no one else had fields that close to the border of the neighbouring parish. It looked too complicated to work. Even with objections, they listed the project and José dug the channels.
The village was tiny, with only six families, so when something happened to one family everyone helped. That winter was a bad one, and one family in the village lost a part of their barn roof. It took the men months to fix it so Jose’s reservoir didn’t get done. The wet summer meant twice the work to make the hay; the winter saw sickness in the animals and the following summer a fire. Two years passed and José still had no reservoir. He had finished his drainage ditches, which had already helped the situation, but he wanted to finish the job.


He had an idea, his son was now a teenager. What if he made the reservoir with straight sides so the teenage boys could use it as a swimming pool? Would they help him dig it out and lay the stones? He showed his son what he wanted to do and asked him to talk to his friends. That weekend twenty boys turned up to help and the next weekend even more. In no time at all they had dug a pool and built sluice gates.

Stone sides


José and his family threw a big party for the village, the women baked empanada’s and they sat in the woods by the pool while the children had a great time swimming in the water.
The pool in its woodland location became a popular courting spot and remained so even after the reservoir fell into disuse. My neighbour can’t remember it being used, it probably took too much work to maintain it, but he can tell me about couples who did their courting there, and his mother remembers swimming when she was a child.
Now it has almost disappeared, and stories like this disappear with it, claimed back by nature.

The approach

How lovely to have a swimming pool, though, in the dappled light of the woods? I can only listen to stories and dream.

The Mystery of the Wooden box.

Out now is Book 3 and the last Treasure of Saint Bee.

Find what happens to Jerry and Alex.

Who was behind all the trouble?

What happens when you find a body on a mountain.

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